Federal Community Develop-ment Block Grant (CDBG) funds earmarked for the long-delayed Guy Benjamin School cafetorium project are in danger yet again, according to Lawrence Joshua, the director of the Division of Capital and Deve-lopment Planning, a division of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources.
Originally about $325,000 was appropriated to GBS for the new cafetorium in 2000, and a lack of progress has now put those funds in jeopardy, according to Joshua.
The local government is in danger of losing almost $4 million in CDBG funds because of delays, Joshua explained.
Must Spend Funds
“The Guy Benjamin School project was funded back in 2000 and it’s still not done and right now I’m under the gun to spend up to $4 million by August,” said Joshua. “If we don’t spend it, the federal government will take it back and I am not going to sit here and allow that to happen.”
At a V.I. Senate hearing recently, Joshua recommended the funds be reprogrammed to a St. Thomas Methodist Church group which wants to purchase a building for a homeless shelter.
“The quickest project to get done is an acquisition project,” said Joshua. “The Methodist outreach organization wants to buy a building for a purpose which is a lot easier than trying to build one.”
After the original appropriation for the GBS cafetorium, the architect firm Yssis was hired to design plans for the project, which is where the project was derailed, according to Joshua.
Although St. John architect William Willigerod designed new plans for the cafetorium, DPNR officials have never seen the new designs, Joshua added.
“We hired the architect to do the plans and there was a dispute with them and the project came to a halt,” the DPNR official said. “I’ve heard there are new plans but haven’t seen them.”
“I talked to a lady who said they wanted to change the scope of the work, but I wonder why I have not seen the new plans,” Joshua added.
Redirecting the funds from the GBS project to the Methodist homeless shelter doesn’t mean a cafetorium won’t be built at the Coral Bay school, according to Joshua.
“I want to go ahead with the plan to take the money from GBS and purchase the building for the shelter, but that will leave about $60,000,” he said. “That is enough to complete the design and then in the next year’s grant, or the subsequent one, we would refund them.”
“The thing is not to discard the project but not to lose the money because we really are under the gun,” Joshua continued.
“There is a lot of money that we need to spend by August and that is one of our biggest projects.”
GBS PTA members and former Senator at Large Craig Bar-shinger formerly blamed the delay on Department of Educa-tion officials, which is inaccurate, according to Joshua.
“It’s not the Department of Education, I think the problem was in the design,” said Joshua. “The Department of Education was working along to get the project done and then we ran into a snafu with the design. If they finish the design we can refund them.”
“We don’t want to abolish the project, but we can not afford to have them hold us up and put us in danger like this,” Joshua said.